One Tiny Leaf

Short stories and poems

**This story was also an exercise for class. It is still very rough and could use some expansion. It could have novel potential, but for now, I am setting it aside to work on my project for next semester.

Mara was already settled next to her mother in the creaky pews when Zoe entered All Saints Chapel and slouched between them. Zoe’s eyes were red and watery, and she stared at the lily coated casket sniffing loudly. Mara blushed and looked around at the other family members who peered at Zoe with sympathetic smiles. Great Uncle Kevin put his hand on her shoulder and whispered something into her ear, which made her nod and delicately smile. The chapel was nearly full when their grandmother walked down the aisle followed by her sons, Mara and Zoe’s fathers. She was stoic, calmly walking without a shake in her step. Until she reached Zoe, that is. She paused to embrace Zoe, and both of them started crying and trembling in each other’s arms. Mara looked down at her shoes, the black patent leather reflecting her unaffected face. She tried to feel something as she covered her dry eyes with her long brown bangs. Her mother glanced over at her and gave an exasperated sigh. She licked her thumb and index finger and smoothed Zoe’s bangs over to the side where they would stay out of her face. Normally, this would produce a dramatic reaction from Mara, but today the last thing she wanted was a scene. Her mother had not shed a tear, even when Uncle Joe had called to give the news about Mara’s grandpa dying. When Mara’s grandmother finally took her seat in front of the cousins, Zoe turned to Mara and gave her a hug.
“I’m so glad that you’re staying with us this weekend,” she whispered. “I haven’t seen you in ages. You’ve gotten tall and skinny. You must have boys falling all over you.”
Zoe was only ten years older than fifteen year old Mara, but she spoke like a senior citizen. Mara smiled and gave an obligatory laugh, but she didn’t know what else to say. As the priest began the opening prayers and the women around Mara descended to the kneelers, a pendant freed itself from Zoe’s cardigan and began swinging like a pendulum. Mara stared at it, and she forgot to pray, as Zoe’s eyes were shut in fervent reverence. The pendant was a small circle hung on a thick golden chain and had something in another language carved on it. An oblong vial filled with a clear liquid on one end and a dark liquid on the other was dangling from the circle. Mara had never seen anything like it, and by the time, the prayers were over, she was completely mesmerized by it. She wondered where Zoe could have gotten something so unique. Mara’s lips automatically recited the liturgy, and she continued to steal glances at it. The vial sat perfectly between Zoe’s tiny breasts, making it appear that she actually had definable breasts. Mara imagined the necklace accentuating her own blossoming chest. Tony Paruzzo, her attractive lab partner in Mr. Felson’s Chemistry class, would notice her then. She pictured it with a sleek, black prom dress, perfectly complimented by a trailing white orchid corsage, long black gloves, and Tony Paruzzo in a tuxedo. Suddenly, Zoe interrupted her thoughts by hugging her tightly during the Passing of the Peace, and she erupted into tears once more, this time soaking Mara’s shoulder in the display. Mara awkwardly patted Zoe’s back. Even though she wanted to, she could not try to touch the necklace without appearing to make an inappropriate gesture.
At the reception, her great-aunts and great-uncles hovered around her grandmother, and Mara could not find her mother anywhere. Zoe stood in a circle of prunish women, laughing and dabbing tears with an embroidered handkerchief as they exchanged stories about Mara’s grandfather. Zoe was chronicling the family history in a set of books that would include a family tree when she was finished. It was her graduate school project, and Mara couldn’t believe that she was actually paying a school to teach her how to do that. It seemed impractical. Mara wanted to go to nursing school after graduation. Zoe had spent extensive amounts of time with the old people in the family, listening to their stories, reading excerpts from their journals, and recording interviews with them. After circling the room in search of her mother, Mara finally ended up next to Zoe, her gaze wandering between the tiled floor and the pendant.
“I have to ask,” Mara couldn’t resist, “what is that necklace and where did you get it?”
“Oh, Grandpa gave it to me in June for my twenty-fifth birthday. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s been in our family for hundreds of years.”
“Hundreds?” Mara gasped.
She grinned, “Yes, I’m sure you know that we’ve traced our family as far back as one of the members of Ponce de Leon’s expedition team when he came to Florida. The story goes that our ancestor got lost from the rest of the group and was rescued from almost certain death by a group of native women. He fell in love with one of the women, and eventually she led him to the fountain he’d been searching for. Supposedly, this is the water from the fountain.”
“You’re telling me that you’re wearing water that could make you immortal?” Mara was incredulous.
“Come on, Mar, it’s just a story. Who knows what it does? From my research, I know that this water has been enclosed for at least one hundred and fifty years. Would you drink anything that old?”
“Why is it two different colors?” She reached out, not daring to touch it. Zoe didn’t move.
“One side is the water of death, which reconstitutes a wounded body, and one side is the water of life, which reanimates the body. With only the water of death, you can’t bring life back to a body, and with only the water of life, you can’t heal a reanimated body. So our ancestors wisely preserved both.”
“And nobody’s tried it? Or at least sent it to be tested or something?”
“Would you give up potential immortality to a lab? Besides, what would they find? Chemically, it’s just water. It’s the fact that it’s sacred water that gives it power.”
With that, she turned to continue mingling with the elder members of the family. What awesome power, thought Mara. Even just the potential of it was tempting. She could carry the keys of life between her breasts and walk with infinite power. Who’s to say that it isn’t really magical water? Who’s to say that it couldn’t be reproduced in a lab just like anything else?
Zoe went to bed early that night, totally spent from a day of crying and reminiscing about people who died before she was born. Mara stayed up to sulk and read during the languor of the adults’ droning conversation. Fortunately, they were rooming together in Zoe’s old room, and when Mara came to bed at eleven, Zoe’s even breathing signaled Mara’s chance to hold the pendant. She hovered over the bedside table staring at it and holding her breath. Just as she reached for the pendant, Zoe stirred and mumbled “come to bed already, Mar.” Mara exhaled and crawled into bed.
As Mara lay in the darkness, she longed for the pendant. What would she do with all that power? She imagined a future where she was Zoe’s age, working in the cancer ward of a metropolitan hospital. One day she would discover Zach Efron in one of her beds, and even with terminal cancer, he would still be gloriously handsome. She would nurse him with care, and they would gradually fall in love, sneaking kisses in his hospital room. Inevitably he would die in her arms, and she would shed a single tear. And that would be when she would use the vial. The water of death would heal the cancer, and the water of life would bring him back. She fell asleep dreaming about the beautiful children she would have with Zach.
It was six am when Mara heard bright brassy notes of jazz filtering through the room. It was old people music. She groaned and pulled the pillow over her head. Zoe came in singing along and toweling her wet hair. She was already wearing the pendant over a boucle sweater.
“Rise and shine, Mar-mar. Grandma came over for breakfast,” Zoe chirped.
Mara drowsily lay in bed thinking of ways to obtain the necklace.
1. Ask for it. (Zoe would never give up something Grandpa gave her.)
2. Make one that looks like the real thing—a decoy—and switch them when Zoe’s not looking. (She’d probably notice, and that would take too much time.)
3. Steal it. Just take it in the night. (It’s kind of wrong, but why should Zoe have it anyways?)
As Mara tried to maintain consciousness over breakfast, her eyes fixated on the necklace swinging and bobbing on Zoe’s chest. She would get it somehow.
“And Mara, dear,” her grandmother said after Mara returned from her morning primping routine. “I have something special for you today. Come sit with me.”
Her father and uncle had gone fishing, and her mother was cleaning the last of the breakfast dishes. Zoe sat across from the couch where their grandmother sat patting the cushion next to her and blinking expectedly at Mara. She obeyed with affected boredom.
“Sweetie, your Grandpa told me a few weeks ago that he regretted not spending more time with you when he was healthier,” she glanced at Mara’s mom with a mysterious eyebrow lift that only the two of them understood. “Now, don’t feel bad about about that, honey, you can’t help that you live two states away and that you’re busy with your own life. He just wished there had been more time I think. Anyways, I suggested that he write you a letter and explain what he wanted to leave you,” she said even-keeled.
“Leave me?” Mara couldn’t hide her curiosity any more. “I don’t understand. I thought he left me money.”
“He did, but he also left you a few things from the house,” she paused, “and one very important thing.”
“What is it?” Mara asked eagerly.
“Well, before you get too hasty, let me explain. Your Grandpa knew that Zoe was getting a lot of the antiques because she cares about those things, and he knew she’d be a good custodian. But he didn’t want you to think you weren’t worth as much to him. Believe me, he loved you to bits. The official will reading is tomorrow, but I thought you’d want a chance to think this over before you have to decide what to do. Here’s the letter.”
She ripped it open, secretly enjoying Zoe’s wince as the envelope shredded.
Dear Mara,
I hope this letter finds you well. I wish you and I could have gotten to know each other better. It’s been a long time since the Christmas that everyone came out to our house, and I’m sure you’ve changed a lot since then. You were adorable with your doll collection and fluffy pink dresses. Now I guess you’re too old for that stuff.
I wish I had more to leave you. Hopefully they’ve told you by now about the small amount of money I left you. I want you to use it for college, if you can save it that long. If not, at least think of me when you spend it. If you are ever curious about me, if you want to know more about my life, ask your Grandma or Zoe. They could both tell you more about me than I could even think to put in this little letter. However, I didn’t want you to feel like Zoe got everything just because she likes heirlooms.
I want you to take Fortune home with you. He’s too much trouble for your Grandma, and I can’t think of anyone who’ll love that bird more than you. We got him when your mom was about your age, and in your pictures, you look so much like your mom did then that I’m sure he’ll be comfortable with you. She used to tell Fortune her secrets. Maybe when he sees you, he’ll remember some of them. Your Grandma has his paperwork and everything. Take good care of him for me.

Mara put the letter down, slightly confused. She had only vague memories of Fortune the African Gray Parrot. Mara could remember her mother saying that they lived about 80 years and that they had the intelligence of a two year old child, which was just enough to make them a handful. Mara’s mother was standing in the doorway, holding the dishtowel limp by her side. Any thoughts of the pendant had vanished from Mara’s mind completely, and before she realized what she was doing, she hugged her Grandma, her eyes wet with tears.
“Thank you, Grandma,” she whispered. “Thank you so much.”
Two weeks later, Mara was getting ready for school, and she had brought the bird into her bedroom. Fortune perched on the vanity, hovering over Mara’s mirror.
“Good grief, look at you,” he squawked. “You look like a streetwalker.”
Mara glanced in the mirror at her jeans and v-neck blouse. It seemed normal enough to her.
“Why did you say that, Fortune?” she asked, mistakenly believing that the bird could reason with her.
“Are you going to school or to a bordello?”
After that, no matter what Mara said to Fortune, his reply was “whore” or “slut” which he would apply to her interchangeably. Finally, Mara gave a short laugh, and put him back in his cage.
As she was locking the door, he said, “Well, fine, Carly, if you want to look like a whore, fine, but you better expect you’ll be treated like one.”
Mara left for the day with Fortune’s words ringing in her ears. The bird had called her Carly, her mother’s nickname in high school. Now she went by Carolyn. Had her mother dressed inappropriately as a teenager, or was her Grandpa just so ornery that the bird picked it up?
Later that night, Mara and her parents sat at the dinner table eating quietly, and suddenly, Fortune chimed in, “For Pete’s sake, cross your ankles. Everyone can see your business.”
Mara’s mother jerked visibly when he said that, and Mara’s father gave her a quizzical look.
“Children, were you born in a barn? Get your elbows off of the table. Sit up straight. Finish your vegetables,” he continued.
As Mara’s mother did the dishes, and Mara sat at the kitchen table reading, the bird landed on Carloyn’s shoulder and said loudly, “Do you want to know a secret?”
He waited expectantly for her “Yes,” and as soon as she said it, he continued, “Someday I’m gonna leave here and never see you or Daddy or Momma ever again.”
As Fortune flew back to his cage, Mara realized why they lived two states away from the rest of the family and why it was so rare for them to go back. She wondered if Fortune would ever favor them.


Your writing is so entertaining- I could spend hours reading it. Keep up the great work.

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About One Tiny Leaf

I see my writing as one tiny leaf on a great big tree of budding authors. While I hope to one day publish professionally and find a community of writers and readers, for the present this blog allows me the space to put my work to the test. I welcome any constructive comments and feedback.